TouroCom Harlem Grads Recognized by State Medical Society for Community Service
Newly-minted docs Jemima Akinsanya and Jean Shiraki share a passion for community service
They hailed from different parts of the world – one from Nigeria and the other from Hawaii and Japan – and now some two decades later, they stood on stage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on a recent June afternoon, sharing an honor bestowed by the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) for community service they gladly provided during their four grueling years of medical school.
The occasion was the commencement of the Class of 2016 of the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. Jemima Akinsanya and Jean Shiraki had dedicated themselves tirelessly, forgoing study time and social events to further causes they believed in. They were not close friends in medical school but they shared a passion for helping others.
Jemima had focused on helping underrepresented minorities gain a foothold in medicine and mentoring youth in Harlem who might one day want to pursue a career in health or science.
Jean donated her time to helping students learn the policy process as well as service. She organized health fairs, blood drives, served on medical missions abroad and took on leading roles in national and state medical societies where she directed programs and advocated on issues affecting minority communities.
“They provided outstanding service to the community, selflessly and with great skill,” said TouroCOM Executive Dean Robert Goldberg. “Jemima helped broadcast our mission throughout Harlem, and harnessed students and faculty alike to become active and embrace all peoples while learning the field of medicine. Jean served as the representative of all 16 New York medical schools to the American Medical Association, earning a reputation among her peers for her health policy views and advocacy skills on a national scale.”
Nigerian Roots Shaped Future Interest
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Dr. Akinsanya moved to the U.S. when she was a year old and grew up in New Jersey. Her interest in bringing quality medical care to underserved communities crystallized when she was 16 years old after her grandfather, still in Nigeria, broke his hip and had to go without advanced medical care for a time. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in biology at Montclair State University, and then enrolled in Touro’s Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies in Biological and Physical Sciences program, which would lead her into the DO program a year later.
At Touro, she mentored and tutored her peers as well as Harlem high school students who came to TouroCOM’s afterschool program MedAchieve. She worked at health fairs and partnered with a school in her Washington Heights community to give sixth graders an early exposure to the medical field through a program she initiated called “Mystery Diagnosis,” which involved giving lectures on asthma and heart disease.
A major project was her founding of COMPASS (Creating Osteopathic Minority Physicians who Achieve Scholastic Success), which recruits underrepresented minority applicants to TouroCOM and provides support services.
Congressional Gold Medal
Dr. Shiraki was also very engaged in service but her passion was teaching students how to advocate for civil rights and educating them on the policy process. It’s something she learned before medical school when she spent two years advocating for the Japanese American “Nisei” Veterans to be honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor given by Congress.
“I learned a lot about the process of passing a bill,” she explained, adding she had great uncles who served in the 442 Regimental Combat Team during World War II who were honored with the Medal. “Some first year students come in not knowing anything about the policy process. It’s so rewarding when they realize there’s more to medicine than studying anatomy. They see how policy can really affect communities.”
She was the first TouroCOM student to serve as chair of the Medical Student Section of MSSNY, and she had a long history of involvement with the American Medical Association (AMA) during her time at Touro.
Leaving Touro will not mean the end of Dr. Shiraki’s policy work. She has landed a residency in family medicine at the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in Washington, D.C., a community-focused consortium that supports serving the underserved and community medicine. She plans to continue her policy work upon her return to Washington.
Dr. Akinsanya will be heading to Emory University in Atlanta, where she will be a resident in neurology.